I grew up reading Dilbert comics in the Saturday paper, watching movies like Office Space, and feeling sorry for my Dad who seemed to work in the world’s most dysfunctional office for about half his working career. I don’t know if I ever thought that I’d end up working in an office myself, but I guess it’s kind of inevitable. An office job is likely in store for most of us who live and work in the western world at least once.
The other day, I was struck with something. As someone who has never really grown out of teenagerhood when it comes to acne, I am rather obsessed with having clear skin, and it is a daily struggle to keep those damn pimples from blooming across my face. Consequently, I also notice the condition of other people’s skin. And I noticed – everyone in my office has nice, clear skin. Everyone.
So, the natural question here is, how do they do it? Perhaps I’ve stumbled upon an anomaly in the human population, and it just randomly happens that everyone who works in the Eastern Regional Office at my company has perfect, manageable, blemish-free skin. But, despite the fact that this is indeed a real possibility, given the fact that the world’s population has expanded to over 7 billion people, and a dermatological anomaly, statistacally, pretty much has to happen somewhere, I cannot subscribe to this theory.
For one thing, redheads are statistically over-represented in the office, and as a redhead myself, I know that redhead skin is especially prone to blemishes. For another, about half the office leaves every day for lunch at the Harvey’s and Boston Pizza down the street. Filling their bodies with so much fast food and the grease that accompanies this food cannot be good for their skin. So I have only one conclusion.
Everyone – or, probably more likely – many people in the office have strict skincare regimens.
Why is this important, you may ask? Why is this being presented as something new and noteworthy and worth being said? Because it means that everyone is working way hard on making themselves look good for the office. It means that there’s a certain standard of beauty and – dare I say it – hygiene expected at the office.
For some reason, this rankles me somewhat. For me, having clear skin is a personal desire, a quirk if you will, and not something I do because I work in an office. I find it slightly insulting that social convention in the office requires one to work hard to have clear skin. And this realization about everyone having clear skin has made me watch the others more carefully too. People wear nice, expensive clothing. They have multiple pairs of nice-looking shoes. They take care of their hair.
Again, why is this so noteworthy? Because I couldn’t care less about these things. I wear my hiking shoes to work every day. Don’t tell anyone, but I often wear the same pair of pants all week. My sideburns are in serious need of trimming, but I’m not all that concerned. I also have it worked out so that I only have to shave 3 days out of 5.
Maybe I’m terminally lazy. This is a distinct possibility. But I’m just not that into the whole appearances thing. My idea of a hot potential sex partner is the guy who lives in a basement apartment and still thinks his band has a chance of making it big. He probably hasn’t washed his hair in a couple days, but it still looks gloriously messy in the good way. I like a bit of stubble, and I’m not a fan of fancy clothes unless it’s at a black-tie fundraiser with the mayor – you know, the kind of event that gets crashed by the Joker and Batman has to show up to save all the rich people. In short, I like flaws. I like it when people buck conventionality. And I’m kind of depressed that I’ve become just another office footsoldier in the washed masses.
The solution? I could give up on my skincare regimen. But this would mean the pain of pimples, the agony of acne. And, I will admit it, I’m shallow enough to care about what other people think of my skin. Another solution would be to actually go out and buy a nice pair of shoes, keep myself well groomed in the facial-hair department, and refrain from wearing dirty clothes to work, thus completing my transformation into the ultimate office worker. HR might even have a file on the people who have the best hygiene, and these people might get better raises, or better dental coverage in their health plans.
But what if all that hard work went unnoticed? Then I’d just be clean and presentable for no reason!
There’s something really sad about the office being everything – the office as the place that is the sole reason why you clean up, wash your face, and cut your hair. And, honestly, if I didn’t have to actually leave my house on occasion, the only personal care items that would be used on a near-daily basis would be toothpaste (because who likes fuzzy teeth?), deodorant (because, I admit it, I can get really smelly), and my magic facial cream. If I didn’t have to leave my house, I would probably look about the same as I do now – except that I’d likely have a huge bushman-style beard, and hair cut by myself. Is this self-esteem? I choose to think that it is.
Addendum: all of this reminds me of the Sloan song 500 Up:
“Everyone always tells her how much they care,
But all they really care about is cutting their hair
And letting it grow.”